Notes and Editorial Reviews
When Peter Serkin's recording of Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus came out in 1975, it quickly became the monumental cycle's reference version, rivaling Yvonne Loriod (Erato) and surpassing John Ogdon (Decca). Its first international CD release is something to celebrate. Granted, RCA's 1973 sonics show their age and dynamic limitations next to the gorgeously reproduced Aimard and Osborne standard-setters from Teldec and Hyperion respectively. Yet the 25-year-old Serkin's extraordinary concentration, spiritual affinity for the composer's style, and flexible virtuosity often leave a more personalized, deeper impression. I'll cite several examples.
No. 6 ("Par Lui tout a été fait), for
instance, is a tour-de-force of complex, independently moving textural components requiring a wide array of articulations and dynamics. Aimard's unflinching precision and control belies the work's technical difficulty, as does Osborne's equally rock-steady, somewhat lighter, more dance-like point of view. By contrast, Serkin voices the repeated notes in long, logical lines and employs subtle tempo modifications that heighten the music's inherent drama without losing the overall pulse. You can say the same for Serkin's amazingly multi-leveled performance of No. 16 ("Regard des prophetes, des bergers et des Mages"), where all the composer's middle-register hubbub comes across as clear as Mozart. Notice also the expressive potential Serkin evokes from the composer's soft block chords by way of tender melodic inflection (No. 4 "Regard de la Viegre", No. 9 "Regard du temps", and No. 15 "Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus").
Fine though RCA's remastering may be, I wonder if Serkin's prismatic sonority and tone color might gain even more dimension and presence if someone would remix the original eight-track tape (miked with quadraphonic playback in mind) for SACD surround-sound. But in the here and now, acquire this magnificent recording while you can.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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